"Each step forward has a sacred meaning of its own"   Sri Chinmoy

Chico Memorial Marathon Relay - March 4th 2023 - Bitton

This year when the anniversary of Sri Chinmoy's first Marathon (run in Chico California on 3/3/79) approached, a worldwide virtual race was arranged and we had the option of a full marathon as per usual or a relay with teams of 3 or 4. With no long runs behind me since December and 2 really nasty viruses only recently out of my system, I knew for sure that a marathon was not a good idea. I thought maybe a team of 4 doing a little over 10k each would be ideal, but then Suswara came up with the idea of a Bristol Team and that meant he and I both doing around 13 miles and Vilas (not really running at the moment, definitely a cyclist by trade) chipping in a nippy 0.2 miles to make up the distance.

Half marathon (ish) was clearly a big step up from a diet of 1 and 2 mile races and one-hour off-road sessions, but the idea was pretty compelling and I did a steady phase of mid-distance running sessions for a week to ten days leading up to Marathon Weekend, to get myself in shape without wearing myself out by cramming too many miles. Although I was going to submit 13 miles for the Team Bristol entry, I was of course going to run the extra 0.1 and see how my half marathon time came out. The last one I did was around 1.44, a pacing disaster a year and a half earlier where I ran way too fast in the tunnel (at the 2 Tunnels half marathon in Bath) and paid the price by slowing to a walk in the last mile. Before that I had run flat out against the clock in a virtual half back in 2020 on the Granite Way near Okehampton - I'd managed 1:33:46 on that occasion in good conditions on a near-perfect course, but I went into this 2023 Chico Challenge with the modest aim of running 1:38 or less. After the disaster at 2 Tunnels that would be a decent result!

Suswara and I met up at Bitton for an 8am start - it was chilly for sure but relatively still and the course was clear enough (it gets very popular with cyclists, me included, as the day wears on). We warmed up but not that much, took time for a short meditation at the start line by the station and then I started us off with the usual get set / go! We were both running some kind of out and back route with our turnaround points yet to be decided, it would all be us against our Garmins and we were aiming to run separately at our own speed. I was determined to go off at 7:30 pace and try to hang on, Suswara aimed to start at more like 8:30 and I had the feeling he'd speed up.

Running alone and in relative silence I felt very focussed as the first mile unfolded. I know this course well - I've run marathons and one-milers and 10k here over recent years and even once did my age in miles when I was around 31 I think. The path is smooth and well-maintained and as long as it isn't windy it's a PB course. My watch soon gave me cause for optimism in terms of pace (a steady 7:15 per mile felt OK) but cause for concern in terms of heart rate (to run that pace I was beating at 170 per min). I decided to let my body run its natural pace, although that doesn't always pay off! I stayed focussed on keeping up the effort level and just let the miles roll towards me under the vast, grey sky.

The end of the trail on the edge of Bath seemed to arrive too soon - 4.75 miles on the clock - so already I had to decide whether to weave through the city and its riverside trail or turn on my heel and run back the way I'd come. With a good time for myelf and a good result for the team uppermost in my mind, I went for the u-turn option and accelarated back up to my race pace heading back towards Bitton Station. I soon saw Suswara, looking strong and running well, and got myself up to 6.5 miles without having dropped off the pace. That was the cue to turn again back towards Bath and then give it everything on the home straight of 4.75 hard miles to my starting point.

I can't remember much of what was in my mind, but it all felt clear and calm and physically I was never in the red but never comfortable either. I think it nailed the right pace for my capacity almost perfectly - based on my history of getting the pace very wrong in the past, I put that down to pure grace. That final 4.75 got harder and faster as the finish line approached and I was amazed that my body not only kept up the pace but allowed me to dip under 7 minute miles for the last few half-mile "laps" that flashed up on the watch.

The end result was 1:34:33 for a slightly over-distance half marathon, a time with which I was pretty elated and which took Team Bristol to the top of the Leader Board. The whole thing felt great and helped me to bury the unfortunate memories of what my body had been through only a few weeks before in Bali, ravaged by a couple of tropical illnesses I'd rather forget. Chico Marathon is a real institution for our club now - wherever you happen to be at the end of February or beginning of March every year, you can get yourself out there and tell yourself you're running in Chico.

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